SLI vs. CrossFire, Part 1 – mid-range multi-GPU scaling & value
The review that we are presenting here today compares the performance of the very fastest AMD and Nvidia video cards to mid- and upper-midrange cards in SLI or CrossFire. This is Part One of a brand-new series that continues where our “Core i7 vs. Phenom II X2 vs. X4 scaling performance analysis“ left off. In fact, that article is a continuation of an older series where we benchmarked the Core i7-920 versus the Q9550s and Phenom II CPUs in “Core i7 vs. Penryn vs. Phenom II with HD 4870-X2 & TriFire” which we published in January, 2010. This first part of our evaluation only deals with CrossFire scaling versus SLI scaling on Core i7-920 as later parts of this series will expand to cover many more multi-GPU configurations and more CPU platforms, including dual- versus quad-core.
We are actually expanding on our old “Performance Meets Value” series with far more games to benchmark and with more powerful graphics than HD 5870 CrossFire which we are again benching for you as a baseline. And this time, we are now benchmarking with the three fastest single-GPU graphics cards from each vendor – GTX 580/570/480 and HD 6890/6950/5870 versus the more mid-range GTX 560/460 & GTX 450 SLI, and HD 6870 and HD 5870 CrossFire.
After nearly a month of solid benchmarking – literally hundreds of individual benchmark runs which we have gathered, analyzed and charted for you – we now have some more solid evidence about multi-GPU scaling and how pairing mid-priced middle-performing solutions compare to the expensive fastest individual cards. We are again looking at Performance Meets Value. Keep these prices in mind as you look over our results to determine value for yourself.
From the above chart, you can compare value by looking at the rough e-tail and street pricing of our cards. Cards denoted with an asterisk(*) are generally more discounted and pricing is approximate and what we found as street pricing; especially the HD 5870 and GTX 480 are both EoL’d and pricing can vary greatly. We looked primarily at USA pricing and at NewEgg.com in particular
We are continuing to test at two of the most popular demanding wide-screen resolutions, 1680×1050 and 1920×1200, plus at 2560×1600. We use 4xAA or 8xAA plus 16xAF and with maximum DX11/10.1/10/9c details whenever it is available. For all of our testing in this review, we are benching with Catalyst 11.1a and GeForce 266.58 drivers (266.66 for the GTX 560 Ti); each one a very solid and stable driver set.
When we say “performance meets value”, we mean that a pair of HD 5870s – now discontinued – can be got for $400 while a GTX 580 costs $500. So, we naturally ask, “is it worth it” to buy the single GPU video card and can even the budget GTS 450 in SLI fit into a relatively high-end PC gaming? What about “micro-stutter” and how well do games generally scale by adding a second videocard?
Please note that this review was cut short as Part One when our Gigabyte EX58-UD3R motherboard malfunctioned. Although ABT does not receive products for evaluation from Gigabyte, this editor likes their great bang-for-buck products and we went for a regular RMA. We got our RMA number within a business day of our request and the motherboard was returned to us after just a couple of days at their repair center in the City of Industry, California – just one week from failure to back up and running again! Many thanks to their superb service and to their repair department. We shall continue to recommend Gigabyte hardware with increased confidence.
Please continue on to the next page for the complete hardware and software setup of our testing platform. We shall see what happens when high performance single-GPU video cards finally meets multi-GPU value in PC gaming at the beginning of 2011.